George v. Kasaine: Cal. Labor Code Sec. 970
Generally speaking, California Labor Code Section 970 (“Section 970”) makes it unlawful for anyone to influence or persuade someone to relocate for a job by making knowingly false representations regarding the nature or duration of the work. Click here for an overview of Section 970.
In George v. Kasaine, 2015 WL 12850722 (C.D. Cal. May 5, 2015), a federal court in Southern California awarded double damages to a plaintiff based on a former employer’s violations of Section 970. Specifically, the court found that the former employer had convinced plaintiff to move from Kenya to California through false promises concerning plaintiff’s compensation. The salient facts of George v. Kasaine are set forth below.
Both Plaintiff Aqulina Mwelu George (the "Plaintiff") and Defendant Angela Soila Kasaine (the "Defendant") are Kenyan nationals. In 2011, Plaintiff began working for Defendant as a domestic worker in Kenya. In May 2012, Defendant asked Plaintiff to move to California, where Defendant would serve as a Kenyan consular official and where Plaintiff could continue to work as Defendant’s domestic worker. Defendant offered to pay Plaintiff in accordance with U.S. wage standards. Although Plaintiff was hesitant about leaving her son in Kenya, she felt that accepting Defendant’s offer was the best thing she could do for her son.
Once Plaintiff agreed to go to California, Plaintiff and Defendant set upon obtaining an A-3 visa for Plaintiff. To obtain an A-3 visa for Plaintiff, Defendant was required to submit an employment contract to the U.S. embassy in Kenya for approval. The initial contract had an hourly wage of $8.27. However, the embassy rejected the contract because the hourly wage was too low. Defendant accordingly submitted a revised contract (promising an hourly wage of $9.27), which was approved.
Under this contract, Defendant agreed: (a) to provide Plaintiff with free room and board; (b) to pay overtime compensation at one and a half times Plaintiff’s $9.27 hourly rate (as required by California law); (c) “to comply with other laws and regulations governing employment in the United States ....;” and (d) to provide 21 vacation days, as well as weekends off. (George, 2015 WL 12850722, at *1.) The contract also prohibited Defendant from withholding Plaintiff’s passport or other personal property. In February 2013, both Plaintiff and Defendant signed the contract.
In May 2013, Plaintiff traveled to the U.S. to begin working for Defendant. At Defendant’s request, Plaintiff gave her passport to Defendant. Defendant did not return Plaintiff’s passport until Plaintiff’s last day of employment.
During Plaintiff’s first week of work, Defendant informed Plaintiff that Defendant would not pay Plaintiff in accordance with the contract but would instead pay $300 per month. Defendant also promised to send 4,000 Kenyan shillings (approximately $43.52) to Plaintiff’s parents, deposit 3,000 shillings (approximately $32.61) in an education insurance policy for Plaintiff’s son, and deposit 3,000 shillings (approximately $32.61) in a Kenyan bank account held in Plaintiff’s name each month. Defendant paid Plaintiff $300 in May, June, July, August, and November 2013. In September 2013, Defendant paid Plaintiff $345. In October 2013, Defendant paid Plaintiff $310. In addition, Defendant paid Plaintiff’s parents 4,000 shillings in June, July, August, September, and October 2013. In total, Defendant paid $2,373.55 during Plaintiff’s employment in California.
Plaintiff never received a single day off during the six months that she worked for Defendant in California. Instead, Plaintiff was required to work seven days per week, including weekends. Defendant did not allow Plaintiff to leave the house without permission.
On Saturday, November 16, 2013, Defendant refused Plaintiff’s request to take the afternoon off. “In response, Plaintiff told Defendant that she understood her rights under the contract. [Citation] Defendant then ran upstairs, retrieved Plaintiff’s passport, and threw it at Plaintiff. [Citation] Defendant told Plaintiff to get all of her belongings and leave. [Citation] Defendant also told Plaintiff that she had…canceled Plaintiff’s visa. [Citation]” (George, 2015 WL 1285722, at *2.) Plaintiff called a hotline provided to her by the U.S. embassy, and the operator of the hotline sent police officers to get Plaintiff.
The police officers took Plaintiff to a Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (“CAST”) office. CAST placed Plaintiff in a shelter, where she lived until August 2014.
Plaintiff subsequently sued Defendant, asserting violations of various California laws, including Section 970. Section 970 makes it unlawful to “influence, persuade, or engage any person to change ... from any place outside to any place within the State, ... for the purpose of working in any branch of labor, through or by means of knowingly false representations ... concerning ... [t]he length of time such work will last, or the compensation therefor.” (Cal. Labor Code sec. 970.) As the Court explained, an individual who violates Section 970 “is liable for double damages resulting from the misrepresentation.” (George, 2015 WL 12850722 at *5 (citing Cal. Labor Code sec. 972).)
In the instant case, the Court found that Plaintiff stated a legal claim against Defendant, given that “Defendant convinced Plaintiff to come to California to work as a domestic worker by assuring Plaintiff that she would be compensated in accordance with United States wage standards.” (George, 2015 WL 12850722 at *5.) The Court further noted that “Plaintiff’s compensation fell drastically below United States wage standards. Indeed, Defendant likely never intended to pay Plaintiff the wages she promised, as Defendant informed Plaintiff that she would only pay $300 per month almost immediately upon Plaintiff’s arrival in Los Angeles. Since Defendant convinced Plaintiff to work in California through false promises concerning her compensation, Plaintiff states a claim under Cal. Labor Code § 970.” (Id.)
The Court held in Plaintiff’s favor and awarded double damages to Plaintiff under California Labor Code Section 972.
If you have questions about Section 970, call ((916) 612-0326) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) Finley Employment Law today. We serve clients throughout California, including Sacramento, Roseville, Walnut Creek, San Ramon, and Concord.
The information in this blog post is for general informational and advertising purposes only and is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. Instead, you should speak with a California employment attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.